Monsanto pays up

Feature story - 11 January, 2005
What do you do if you're trying to plant genetically engineered cotton in a hurry, but the government wants to make sure there won't be any environmental damage from doing so? If you're the giant Monsanto corporation, one answer might be: bribe somebody to skip over that pesky environmental assessment. Who knows how many times this tried and true practice has worked before? This time, they've been caught red-handed in Indonesia, and fined US$1.5 million.

Monsanto has been fined for bribing senior Indonesian environment ministry official to try and avoid an environmental assessment on its GE cotton.

As the world's largest GE crop company, Monsanto is aggressively promoting its products across the globe by trying to dismiss any environmental concerns, steamroller consumer opposition and circumvent government regulations.

If their GE crops are as environmentally safe, wholesome and well- tested as Monsanto claims then you'd think it wouldn't need to grease the palms of politicians to get approval for its crops. But it has been caught paying US$50,000 to the senior Indonesian environment ministry official to try and avoid an environmental assessment on its GE cotton. Obviously Monsanto wouldn't want any of its claims about its crops independently tested would it?

Monsanto records show US$700,000 of "questionable or illegal" payments from 1997-2001 to current and former Indonesian government officials and their family members. Obviously nothing works better than piles of cash to help smooth the path of government approval for controversial GE crop, when faced with opposition from activists and farmers in Indonesia.

Some activists might be unsurprised at such underhand tactics. But to be caught so blatantly bribing government officials in order to secure 'legal' approval of its GE crops is surely a major embarrassment even to a company with such a dodgy history as Monsanto.

Monsanto had little choice but to admit its guilt in the case and pay fines of US$1.5 million to US government regulators and agree to three years' close monitoring of its business practices by US authorities.

Crime pays?

Why has Monsanto been so desperate to get GE crops approved in Indonesia? The answer can be found in Argentina, Brazil and the US where Monsanto has near-monopolies in the GE soya, maize and cotton markets. Because the GE seeds are patented they must be brought from the company every year. That means fat profits for Monsanto but bad news for poor farmers in countries like Indonesia.

Bribes, corruption and relatively insignificant fines are small change for Monsanto compared to the huge prize of monopoly position in countries with large agricultural sectors. And once GE crops are planted in a country, any contamination of non-GE crops means Monsanto can also claim royalties from these farmers as it has done in Canada.


Greenpeace is campaigning against Monsanto's unsafe, unwanted and unnecessary GE crops. But we are up against underhand tactics backed by millions of dollars. Help our campaign by giving now.

Report on Monsanto's exposure to liability for GE contamination by Innovest. It highlights Monsanto's terrible environmental record and the risk to Monsanto share-holders from global opposition to GE crops.

BBC - Monsanto fined $1.5m for bribery.